Thursday, June 12, 2008

Do this as my memorial.

Truth, belief, and knowledge. These three epistemological concepts play an important role in our religion. However, how they interact in modern Christianity is not quite the same as the ancient understanding of their roles and importance. In fact, during the time of Yeshua, the theory of knowledge was well developed. Plato, who, by that time, was an ancient philosopher had profoundly impacted the understanding of this area of study.

What we believe is true and what is, in fact, true are not the same. Further, what we believe is true and what we know to be true represent distinct sets as well. Ancient Hebrews understood "knowledge" (da'ath) to be a subset of our beliefs, namely, those beliefs, which had been vindicated or borne out (shafat) by experiences. Frankly, unlike many modern Christians, ancient Hebrews had little regard for mere beliefs. Their focus was on knowledge.

Unfortunately, while ancient people had adequate means for transmitting their belief's, as we do, from generation to generation, it was nearly impossible for them to transmit knowledge adequately, since the ability to transmit experience through culture was limited to oral and some written traditions. One means that ancient people developed to transmit such knowledge was the so-called memorial, in Hebrew the word zakar; in Greek, anamnesis. The collective memory of a culture is represented in large part by the memorials it chooses to erect. Public memory is enshrined in memorials, which make it possible for later generations to reconstruct a cultural identity.

For example, Ancient Hebrews could believe that Adam and Eve really existed, but had no proof, therefore, their existence was a belief, not knowledge. But, they could know that Abraham existed because he built a memorial (a pile of stones for example) which could be experienced and about which stories could be passed on (Ancient Hebrews put little emphasis on the reliability or infallibility of proof.), and about which one could identify with. An anamnesis was, therefore, not so much a reminder (as the word memorial implies today), but a collective experience that served to bear out (to some level of assurance) the truthfulness of a belief, particularly a belief regarding belonging and identity. Likewise, while the western understanding of a memorial is to recall something from the past, the Hebrew notion was to experience a current truth (e.g., "Abraham is our father" is true.).

History is written by victors. It is the dominant paradigm and its culture and institutions that define what is to be remembered, and how it will be remembered. “Collective amnesia” is a term that refers to what is unregistered in the imagination of the individual, unchronicled in books, and uncommemorated by monuments, relics, and ritual observances. Collective amnesia is a metaphor for failure to transmit knowledge about the past.

At the last supper, when Yeshua took up the bread and broke it and gave thanks, he said, "This you are to prepare for my memorial." His statement was not intended to ensure that his disciples remembered him, but that they continue to know that, in spite of his impending death, he really had existed and they still belong to him.

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